April 9, 2020
To all VFM vendors:
I think this is a good time to inform everyone of what our Farmers Market status is as of today April 9, 2020, and to speculate about what the future may hold for all of us.
We know for sure now that our very much reduced Farmers market this Saturday, April 11 will be our last one for the foreseeable future. We will not be able to resume any “in person” market until Governor Scott loosens restrictions on “non essential” retail food sales. In the meantime, the VFFC has been working a countless number of hours to develop an Online marketplace that will include online ordering and payment and curbside delivery of products at the VFFC on Saturday mornings. I am certain it will improve each week and more items can be listed. I thank Greg and all the folks that have been working long hours over the last couple of weeks to get this going. Visit the Vermont Farmer’s Food Center website for more information.
During the last three weeks, we have not known from one day to the next whether or not our Saturday Winter market would be able to be open the next Saturday. I will give a short history of just what transpired so everyone can be aware of what the challenges were and why things were so uncertain for so long.
Through Executive Order 01-20 Governor Scott declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. He subsequently issued several addendums of which most did not apply to us. Addendum 6 that was issued on March 24 definitely did apply to our Farmer’s market. It stated in part: “…Vermonters are directed to stay at home or in their place of residence, leaving only for essential reasons such as: personal safety; groceries or medicine…”. It also stated, “…all businesses and not for profit entities in the state shall suspend in-person business operations.”
These statements cause confusion. If groceries are essential, we should be able to stay open. If all not for profit entities have to suspend operations, that would be us.
The following paragraph in EO 01-20 Addendum 6 states: “The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), shall develop a process for responding to questions regarding acceptable continuation of business operations.”
The ACCD was given the job of clarifying who could stay open and who can’t. In fact, we even received a note from the Agency of Agriculture that advised us to submit an appeal outlining our plan for social distancing and other safety protocols.
I submitted the appeal on Thursday, March 26 and received an answer on Saturday, March 28. The answer to the appeal stated in part, in bold and underlined, “ your business may continue limited in- person operations under the Governor’s Executive Order.” The next paragraph was a single sentence. This is what it said: “Please continue to utilize the protections you have already put in place for your farmers market”
This seemed pretty clear. However, the next day we received several communications from the Agency of Agriculture that stated the ACCD was not supposed to be making determinations but only to provide “guidance”. They then stated that all Farmer’s markets were ordered closed. I had a form from the ACCD in one hand that allowed us to stay open and an email in the other hand that ordered us closed.
After a conference call with leaders at The Agency of Agriculture and ACCD last Friday morning April 3, it was abundantly clear that we would not be able to operate much longer. I informed them we would be in operation for two more Saturdays and would then be moving to online ordering with curbside delivery.
I do not blame these Agency heads. They have been as confused as everyone else and trying to understand what the Governor’s orders mean. It takes a great deal of clarification and translation, and even then there are gray areas and doubts about the intent of these orders.
I would encourage everyone to go to the Governor’s website and read the orders for yourselves. It can be very informative.
Now, what can VFM do for vendors while we are shut down and have no income coming in? We can do a few things:
Communicate VFM vendor needs and questions to VFFC regarding the online marketplace. We can also provide some volunteers to help with aggregation and distribution of the food.
VFM can continue to advertise, not for the in-person market, but for the on-line market.
We can continue to advocate for our farmer’s market and all markets around the State. We believe we are essential. Our customers certainly believe we are essential.
We do not know when we will be able to resume business even under “modified conditions”. We certainly don’t know when we will be able to resume business as usual. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I encourage all vendors to apply for Summer Market to save your space. Do not send in any money at this time. You only need to get the application in now. The Board will be meeting next week, in part to further discuss our tentative plans for Summer market. Everything is, of course, dependent on Governor Scott’s guidance and orders.
This is a very tough time for everyone for many reasons. The best we can all do is to observe all safety protocols put into place and try to help to get us all back into a normal business routine. I wish every VFM vendor much luck and health.
President – Vermont Farmers Market